Ireland – A ‘Heaven on Earth’ for some Europeans
Europeans were surveyed recently about their mental image of Ireland. Some were so positive – particularly the Germans – that we wondered if these were the same Germans who were supposed to be worried sick about the Irish economy!
Their ‘take’ on Ireland focused on the magnificence of the landscape and on the friendliness of the people. Some of this, as we know, is traceable to the media ‘packaging’ of our dairy exports – depicting a countryside of unbroken peace. But romantic castles and rousing music-sessions also featured in the mix: all in all, a portrait of a ‘heaven on earth’.
In Ireland, yes, perhaps we do give ourselves a good chance to drink-in the natural beauty surrounding us. As a people, we have never really taken to the idea of high-rise accommodation: in general, we prefer the stand-alone dwelling – and staying ‘earthed’. And then our pace of life remains overall slower, allowing a greater exposure to the out-of-doors: Irish people are still found going for a leisurely stroll – for ‘a walk’ (rather than for a run or a jog).
We may be largely unaware of all this – but it sets us up for that social networking which is the ‘glue’ binding people together as real neighbours. The environment and the social interaction definitely go hand-in-hand: natural beauty and human friendliness.
NO ONE LEFT OUT IN THE COLD
Not, of course, that we totally fall for the delusion of an earthly paradise, with never a cloud in the sky. You will find residents in an estate troubling themselves about how the house-bound elderly are faring during a hard winter. You will find, in our countryside, farming and sporting organisations alerting members to keep an eye out for any lone individual sinking into isolation. You will find all over the country, concerned citizens banding together to act as drivers who facilitate the hospital visits of the elderly and the incapacitated.
In other words, we strive for a vision of the human predicament in the round. Aware that there is going to be an under-side to every passing delight or ‘high’, we try to ‘take the long view’. And this is a task of the human spirit – with the expansive vistas of our country’s landscape perhaps helping us broaden the mental horizon to take-in that full picture. Our capacity to just sit and admire a scenic spot, helps us here too – and, of course, it improves one’s powers of reflection and ‘centres’ one as a person.
In this connection, it is remarkable how often we avail of a splendid panorama in order to recall and celebrate some triumph of the human spirit. Followers of the different Christian traditions will gather on a striking shoreline to welcome the Easter dawn – a celebration of life, surely, for believer and non-believer alike in their own way.
Or, as in recent years, thousands will climb Mount Leinster, there to ‘vigil’ – with hours of singing and high spirits! – for the rising of the Easter sun. And faithfully every July the best part of ten thousand pilgrims will converge to climb Croagh Patrick.
We are reminded of St Patrick himself as March 17 approaches. He is the one who – like Christianity’s founder before him – ‘went up into the hills to pray’. We learn from this tradition that the solitude can enable us to become clear-sighted about the mystery of life.
In solitude, illusions are stripped away. There, we learn that life has shadow as well as light. There, our spirit is released from the shackles of fear concerning ourselves – and we are freed to be of service to others.
CAPACITY FOR REACHING OUT
Maybe those Europeans are right about us Irish. Maybe, after all, they have stumbled upon a truth when they utter ‘landscape’ and ‘friendliness’ in the same breath. The two are indeed connected – the beauty around us can lead to stillness – the stillness can lead to wisdom – then finally true wisdom can tell us that Total-Heaven is not yet here; and that on earth there is still work to be done, service to be offered, suffering to be borne.
Perhaps that is why sometimes Americans will say that, as a people, we are properly ‘grounded’ and rooted. And out of that comes our capacity for reaching out to others and for creative risk. We have, for instance, the highest birth-rate in Europe. This means, in turn, large extended families with several members available to help with the very young.
Finally, the ripples of good cheer and ‘sociableness’ radiate outwards, until an easy friendliness characterises the day’s interactions. There is space to greet the stranger, to engage in chat, to offer hospitality.
But without a tradition, a philosophy-of-life, a culture that is grounded in ‘Altruism’ – the willingness to put oneself out for the Other – there just might never have been an ‘Ireland Of The Welcomes’.